Dehydration nation

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Every time I open a newspaper, a disturbing story jumps out at me. The latest bone-chiller was a Chicago Tribune article bearing the headline, "2 of 5 Americans not drinking enough water." How did our nation of plastic-water-bottle-toting citizens become dehydrated? It's not like we get tired lugging containers to communal wells.

Despite the abundance of water in this country and the convenience of turning a tap, 43 percent of adults are drinking less than the recommended 32 ounces needed daily. These dry people are the usual suspects who engage in all kinds of high-risk behavior. They skip their fruits and veggies, don't exercise and enjoy a cigarette after dining on fast food. Most shockingly, they don't shop at farmers markets.

Aside from these daredevils, we have many who think they're being hydrated by drinking pop, coffee, alcohol and energy drinks. (Some even mix booze with the energy drink). They don't realize these liquids are actually lowering their fluid levels. Health experts recommend we drink more water, pure juice drinks and low-fat milk, while cutting back on the rum and Cokes.

I've never been accused of being a health nut. The only vegetable I like is corn, which doesn't quite qualify as a vegetable. I'm pretty sure it's a grain. I go to farmers markets but only for the donuts. I've been avoiding exercise since high school gym class. I have, however, made an effort to drink less Diet Pepsi and more water. Why wouldn't I, living only 75 blocks west of Lake Michigan.

I've always thought Chicago served the best drinking water and this was recently confirmed by an independent water-testing company. According to a story in the Chicago Sun-Times, Purdex LLC praised Chicago for having the best drinking water of any U.S. city. Our water is low in contaminants has a pleasant bouquet and is downright tasty. It's also the right color–transparent.

For over a century Chicago has been charging beer prices for its champagne water. The city had continuous-flowing drinking fountains and didn't bother to install water meters in many buildings. This is changing under the current mayor, who vowed in 2011 to double water rates by 2016.

The mayor justifies the rate hikes, because there's more expense involved in water than pumping and purifying it. Chicago has 4,300 miles of water mains that were built between 1880 and 1920. Hundreds of them burst each year and need to be replaced.

(We had our own dubious water project a decade ago overseen by disbarred attorney Anthony Bruno, but why bring up the past?) Still, Chicago water is a bargain compared to other major cities. Chicago even taxes bottled water–five cents a bottle –if you can't be bothered to drink our delicious water out of the tap.

Water is a precious commodity. In the coming years, it will be the new "oil." Parched places like Arizona are already clamoring for Great Lakes water. They proposed building a pipeline to Milwaukee. But to paraphrase the Wisconsin governor's response, "The only water that's leaving this state will be in bottles and cans."

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